PAUL JENKINSAmerican 1923 - 2012

PAUL JENKINSAmerican 1923 - 2012

Paul Jenkins studied at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1938 to 1941, then continued his training at Struthers in Ohio, before working as an apprentice in a ceramics factory. He was called up and fought in the American army from 1944 to 1946. After his demobilisation, he became a pupil of Morris Kantor and Yasuho Kuniyoshi at the Art Students League in New York from 1948 to 1951. He travelled to Sicily and Spain. After 1953, he divided his time between Paris and New York.

His earliest works, in the Abstract-Expressionist idiom, had names from Hermann Melville, such as To Queequeg of 1957, evoking the fury of the elements in a vast movement of thickly applied paints of Captain Ahab’s blind search for the absolute. He then developed a more serene version of Tachism in paintings he often called Phenomena, in which only fleeting traces of the shadows of Plato’s ‘Myth of the Cavern’ appear in a misty atmosphere with vague lighting. He himself commented: ‘What is left in silence completes the expression and makes the unknown visible and perceptible.’ Though he remained faithful to the title Phenomena, the appearance of his work continued to evolve, coming closer to that of the American painters Mark Rothko, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, for whom colour was becoming the dominant means of expression. During the 1980s, Jenkins more of less abandoned the flow technique in order to have greater control over the structure of his paintings in respect of the way things or non-things are seen through a prism.

Although his process, which can be compared t the ancient craft of marbling – making coloured paper in a tank in which liquid paints have been poured in the water – or to paintings from after 1980 with kaleidoscopic effects, is repeated indefinitely, it continues to give rise to new outbursts of more or less controlled tricks and changes, endlessly generating the unexpected and forcing one to pay attention. In 1988, moving on from the multiple to extension, he produced an environment of 11,000 square metres (13,000 square yards) of painted silk for the Peking Opera House.